"Thor", which came out this weekend, is technically the fourth movie in the ongoing "Avengers" saga and the 22nd major motion picture based on a Marvel comics character released since 1998. Some of those movies have been big budget runaway successes, while others have been flops, but where does "Thor" rank among them.
When I started to rank the movies, I was doing it completely subjectively, based solely on my opinion, but I realized there's a better way to do it. By coming up with a formula that takes into account the movie's success at the box office, critical reaction and audience reception, I can make an objective ranking that takes personal bias out of the mix.
The four pieces of my formula:
Domestic Box Office Gross
I considered going for net profit, or counting the international market, but it was just easiest to simplify this to total U.S. gross receipts, not adjusted for inflation. Is that the most accurate way of doing it? Not really, but it was quick and gave a good jumping off point. Also, to be fair to "Thor", I've given the movie an estimated $160-$175M gross, based on the opening weekend estimate of $66M. I'll explain how falling short of or exceeding that estimate could impact Thor's ranking when I get around to it.
Rotten Tomatoes Average Critic Score
I first considered going with the "freshness" rating, but as it turns out, movies can have very similar freshness percentages, but vastly different average scores. For example, both "Thor" and "Fast Five" are rated 78% fresh, but Thor's average score is half a point higher than Fast Five's, which is a pretty big difference.
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Percent Liked
Conversely, because the audience "score" is compressed to a five-point scale, the scores don't vary enough to make for a good 22-movie ranking. The "liked" percentage works as a better metric here.
Just one last 10-point score to give a different take for balance purposes. Also, IMDB ratings do tend to fluctuate wildly in the period shortly after a movie's release, so Thor's could go up or down from its current 7.6.
Each movie is ranked 1-22 in each of the four metrics, and assigned the inverse number of points for that ranking (#1 is worth 22 points, #2 is worth 21, etc.). The four point totals are summed, and that's how I come to the final ranking. The maximum point total a movie could get is 88, and the lowest is 4.
Also, one last note: I know "Kick-Ass" and the "Men in Black" movies came from Marvel imprints, but for the purposes of this ranking, I'm only looking at movies with the Marvel name attached. OK, on to the list.
22 - Elektra (2005)
Even if I hadn't done any research at all into box office and scores and such, I would have put this movie last. It ends up ranking last in two of the four metrics (IMDB score, Critics score), and made a dismal $24M at the box office.
21 - Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Honestly, I would have had this higher. I really enjoyed this darker, more violent take on Punisher. Still, the box office was last, the critics hated it and even the Rotten Tomatoes audience wasn't a fan. It wasn't in the bottom five in IMDB rating though, which I think is more reflective of how I feel about it.
20 - Ghost Rider (2007)
This is about right for this abomination of a movie.
19 - Daredevil (2003)
I keep hearing that the director's cut of this movie is actually better, but I still haven't seen it. Apparently neither have many other people, because the two fan metrics (IMDB score and Rotten Tomatoes Audience Ranking) both have this in the bottom three.
18 - Blade: Trinity (2004)
I actually really ENJOY this movie, but that doesn't make it good. If anything, it's almost enjoyably bad.
17 - The Punisher (2004)
This is the opposite of "Blade: Trinity". Instead of enjoyably bad, it's ploddingly bad.
16 - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
This movie actually scores worse than "The Punisher" in both IMDB rating and percentage of audience who liked it, which kind of shocked me. Still, it jumps ahead of Punisher based largely on solid box office numbers ($131M to $33M).
15 - Fantastic Four (2005)
This actually had a lower critics score than its sequel, which just baffles me. It wasn't a good movie by any measure, but it was better than the mess that was "Rise of the Silver Surfer".
14 - Hulk (2003)
This movie has the distinction of having the biggest disparity between critical and audience reaction. It got 14.5 points from the critics score (6.2), and had the worst "audience liked" percentage of any of the 22 movies at a dismal 34%.
13 - Blade II (2002)
You can see based on the jump in points that there's a clear divide between Hulk and Blade II, separating the movies that were bad (Hulk and below) from the movies that were just adequate.
12 - Blade (1998)
I personally like Blade II better than the original, but the first movie scored better on IMDB and among the audience. The difference in box office ($12M) can be explained almost entirely by ticket price inflation.
11 - X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
This movie certainly had its problems, and I think that's actually reflected in the $179M box office, which, while high, is about a $60M drop from 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand."
10 - Spider-Man 3 (2007)
This movie gets nearly 40% of its total points from its box office ranking, where it raked in $336M. The two audience measures both rank in the bottom 10, and the critics score isn't particularly good either. The 15-point difference between its box office score (3rd overall) and percent of audience that liked it (18th) is the highest on the board.
9 - The Incredible Hulk (2008)
If I'm ranking the movies with no regard for metrics, I probably have this one spot higher...
8 - X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
... and that spot comes at the expense of this movie, which I'd personally rank 13th, just above Hulk, and below the first two Blade movies.
7 - Iron Man 2 (2010)
And here's our second "plateau jump" from the midrange of Marvel movies to the excellent ones. I know people had their problems with Iron Man 2, but I loved it.
6 - X-Men (2000)
If you take box office receipts out of the equation, this movie jumps ahead of the next one on the list.
5 - Spider-Man (2002)
Here's something weird: Spider-Man made $403M at the box office, but according to Rotten Tomatoes, only 65% of the audience liked the movie. I understand the disconnect between box office and percent liked for Spider-Man 3 (lots of people wanted to see the third movie in the trilogy and were disappointed), but not for this one. If only 65% of the audience liked it, then how did it do so well?
4 - Thor (2011)
As you can see, "Thor"'s lead over "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" is pretty tenuous. In fact, the audience liked score between "Thor" and "X-Men" is currently tied, which means if Thor slips at all there, then the three movies would only be separated by a single point. X-Men made $157M at the box office, which means if Thor makes less than that, it'd lose a point from my current $160-$175M estimate, and slip below those two, and be in danger of slipping below "Iron Man 2". To be entirely honest, I think you could rank any of the movies 4-7 in any order and be able to get some kind of agreement from fans.
3 - X2 (2003)
Our last plateau jump. Again, I personally think you could rank any of the movies 1-3 in any order and I wouldn't argue too much with you. It just so happened that the objective system came up with the same ranking I would have come up with subjectively.
2 - Spider-Man 2 (2004)
As a bigger "Spider-Man" fan than "X-Men" fan, I'll always put this movie ahead of X2. Just my personal opinion. They split the four metrics, with X2 outranking Spider-Man 2 in IMDB score and audience rating, but falling behind in box office and critics score.
1 - Iron Man (2008)
This is the No. 1 movie in two of the four metrics (IMDB score and audience ranking), tied for 3rd in critics rating and 4th in box office. When it came out, I said it was the best Marvel movie, and my opinion on that hasn't changed.
So, how would you rank them? And where do you think "Captain America", "Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" will eventually end up in the rankings?